As I looked out over a golden valley at sunset, filled with over 100 wild horses peacefully grazing together, I wondered if this might be what heaven itself will look like. This wasn’t heaven, but it was close. I was standing in the Onaqui Mountain Herd Management Area 90 minutes southwest of Salt Lake City near Dugway, Utah.
This herd management area (HMA) covers over 200,000 acres and is currently home to around 450 wild horses. The Onaqui Mountain wild horse herd has been roaming this land since the late 1800s and is a favorite destination for photographers and horse lovers wanting to witness the beauty and excitement of wild horses.
Because water sources in the area are limited, smaller bands of horses come together to form several large herds with over 100 horses each. The Onaqui HMA is one of the only places where you can see this many horses traveling together and living in relative harmony.
The Onaqui Mountain wild horses are not as shy as most wild horse herds and you can get relatively close to them, which makes for exceptional photography opportunities.
Wild Horse Etiquette
You can enjoy time with the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses—living legends and symbols of our western heritage firsthand on our public lands.
Think of yourself as a special guest of these horses and burros, and do your part not to intrude on them or their habitat by being mindful of these guidelines.
◆ When making plans to visit a herd management area (HMA), check with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office for rules, maps and information on where herds have been seen recently.
◆ Stay at least 100 feet from any wild horse.
◆ Don’t harass the horses or alter their behaviors by, for example, chasing them to make them run or clucking to get their heads up for a photo.
◆ Never feed or try to pet the horses.
◆ Stay on designated roads and trails.
◆ Turn off your vehicle when you stop to watch the horses. Engines can spark grassland fire and emissions can be harmful to the horses.
◆ Practice waterhole etiquette. Sometimes wild horses and burros have only one chance a day to drink, and you don’t want to interfere with that.
◆ Horses and burros always have the right of way. If they come close to you, move away.
◆ Young horses and burros can be very curious. No matter how cute, don’t encourage them to approach you. If they begin to come near you, walk away and don’t engage with them.
◆ Photographers: Never leave tripods, chairs, or other equipment unattended. Foals can easily get tangled up in them.
◆ Keep dogs leashed. Better yet, don’t bring them.
◆ Please don’t fly drones on HMAs, like the Onaqui Mountain wild horse area. They can frighten the horses and cause them to stampede, perhaps causing foals to get trampled.
◆ Leave no trace of yourself. Carry out any food, papers, and other trash.
— Adapted from American Wild
In addition to drinking, there was also plenty of drama with stallion battles and posturing. A brief storm rolled in just before sunset, making for a dramatic backdrop for photographing the herd. The rest of the afternoon was spent observing and photographing the beauty of these animals, along with herd dynamics, both tender and comical. Photos by Shelley Paulson
This article about the Onaqui Mountain Wild Horses originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!